Speaking of tabletop RPGs and way too many ideas …
For some reason I’m obsessed with Troika!, which someone described as “hipster Planescape”. Maybe it’s because the Fighting Fantasy-derived rules are dead simple. Maybe because the text drops tantalizing hints about a bizarre setting it never actually describes.1 Maybe because to date the only publisher that’s paid me real money for something I wrote is Melsonian Arts Council.
In any case Saturday morning I knew what my “pilot” for a Troika! campaign would be. A lot of recent influences dropped into place:
I’ve been reading How to Invent Everything by Ryan North. It’s allegedly part of a manual for stranded time travelers who want “invent” civilization a few centuries or millennia early. There’s even a flow chart of what technologies require other technologies to exist.
I’ve also been reading Avengers and Fantastic Four comics from the 1960s. On the one hand I’ve now seen the first appearances of Kang the Conqueror and Doctor Doom. On the other hand references to “the Reds” and Sue Storm’s modeling career – because nobody would have believed a woman could earn a PhD back then – are painfully, hilariously dated.
Troika! mentions an “autarch” that runs the city of Troika and a far-flung empire. Initially I imagined a mysterious dictator nobody ever sees. Upon rereading, my image shifted to a decadent Roman or Byzantine emperor, utterly disinterested in the world outside his palace.
Slight spoilers, but Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was my Planescape. The idea of throwing science fiction elements into Tolkien-derived high fantasy blew my teenage color-inside-the-lines mind. (Much later during the OSR craze I’d hunt down Arneson’s City of the Gods.) Also the idea that your axe-wielding fighter could conceivably end up with a blaster and a pet android …
So all those collided into a “mirror universe” version of Troika the city: the mysterious dictator whose futuristic technology forged warring villages into a mighty empire. Generations later, he’s still apparently alive. I keep imagining a cross between Big Brother and King Arthur, or Doctor Doom and Thomas Jefferson, or Ming the Merciless and the first Qin emperor. After all, real founders of empires are both heroes and villains, depending on the storyteller.
Now imagine that this founder truly introduced everything: crop rotation, writing, hygeine, basic medicine, aqueducts, concrete, civic architecture, spinning wheels, steam engines, and on and on. Sure people are living longer and better, but under a ruthless dictatorship. There’s no freedom of speech, but there’s no war either. There’s no religious strife because the Imperial cult crushes all other religions. By our standards such a regime is terrible. But compared to what came before it’s a god-emperor-send. (Like Communism was supposed to be.)
Saturday I jotted notes on three index cards. Today I’m writing paragraphs and paragraphs about the Supreme Leader’s citadel, even though in a single session intro game there’s little chance they’ll end up there. (What did The Lazy GM’s Guide say about over-preparing?) I should put more attention into the outer boroughs and the Heights where the aristocracy live.
Hope I get to run this thing one day.
In an interview writer/publisher Daniel Sell said that’s intentional. Planescape was one of the few D&D boxed sets he owned. All the mysterious unexplained bits fired his imagination. Then he found the other supplements that explained the unexplained bits in tedious detail. ↩︎